Stuck in the Middle: The Napoleon

So I haven’t felt that creative in a while, but the other day I committed that I had to get back to my pieces on Leadership persona’s. I’ve been working from a list of of 9 , so I’m back on the task since I encountered one of my predefined leaders on my list just the other day – The Napoleon. Initially the definition/caricature was a mid-level leader with overly aggressive goals who wouldn’t let folks stand in the way – but I found a better way to look at ti. Essentially Napoleon is now first time CEO of a small company, with grandiose goals and a belief that it just takes rigorous execution and trust for this “know it all” leader.

Returning to this conversation around management styles offers me the opportunity to develop a new page around stuff I’ve learned in business. I started this theme last August at site launch and I feel like I have to close it out at some point and move on, since my things I like list didn’t include seem to highlight this as a key area of interest.

The Napoleon persona overview takes a little different approach than the previous posts. The main reason I guess is as a person, I’m in a different place than when I wrote the first one – a new kid, a new gig and growing interest in other things. Perhaps I’ve gotten just a little more Zen, a point my fellow collegeues and friends would strongly push back on, but I believe it when it come to priorities. Hey – YOU too can be Zen-like by embracing an idea – any idea and mumbling it to yourself for say 100 times while washing your hands in scalding water, after that there is no way NOT to be Zen about a topic then.*see end note

While, my other Stuck in the Middle ones were about dealing with such a leader persona and driving change, such as with the Geologist, Collaborator, Visualist or MBIFM – the Napoleon review is more about how to be better a better if you exhibit these qualities and how to understand the strengths of this leadership persona to better pursue/understand the opportunity.

FWIW – an alternative title for this post could be “a thinly veiled letter to a friend”.

Qualifying the Napolean Leader

I’ve spent the better part of the last couple of days hearing short jokes which is what jogged my memory on this, but the Napolean leader isn’t short, doesn’t put his/her hand in their jacket or secretly desire to be exiled and die on a South Atlantic island – it’s a leader who just can seem to take it to the next level and while in their effort to do so, they position themselves as just a little better than they are.

A Napolean leader has been everywhere, knows everyone and are just killing it in a sub-$10M company. Typically these folks don’t have the right product or the perspective on the organization or the future of the business. The Napolean style can be natural or acquired by a less than wonderful outlook which doesn’t include global domination or leadership in a segment.

Without the right product or perspective these leaders quickly become just a little bit frustrated. This mini-CEO probably was a GM of some small business at GE and thought taking such a gig was a great idea. Less pressure, lower expectations and generally slower pace. Fast forward 18 months – this person has a whole different viewpoint. It may even grow out of some general observations:

  • I would have never thought this business would have plateaued so quickly
  • This slow pace is just a little boring
  • If we just did X we might be able to X which could be fun

Recursive thought experiments never end well when you have limited capacity, limited capital or a crowded market. At some point when you exit the loop and he a Napoleon perceives he/she has hit a ceiling, it’s time for digging into the details. Only with a firm understanding of every part of the business can they figure out the right next steps. That’s right – stunted growth requires meddling in the weeds. Negotiating contracts, helping with various functional gaps and generally getting in the way. But it creates “Action” for him or her, which is a good thing – activity equals results after all…

Small companies generally have good people and typically try to make everyone successful – employees, investors and customers – this may actually be part of the companies differentiation. Napoleons have a slightly different take on the small company. SMB’s are platforms to grow and potentially become something different overtime. Napoleon leaders have an insatiable need for more – more from people and more from products which manifests itself in the barking of orders, swat teams and detailed reporting requirements. All of this is delivered to the team with just a touch of arrogance which is often the topic of watercooler discussions and exit interviews.

Unreasonable Expectations

With a global viewpoint and firm understanding of how effectively manage a business as taught to them via the school of hard knocks. The Napoleon leader is battle tested and war scarred – that’s part of their charm. These folks are in EVERY meeting – no need to delegate, they have the answers, experience and “never say quit” attitude which will surely make their company successful. The cool thing for working for one of these leaders is you don’t need to think, be creative or grow – they got your back, take notes and tick off assigned tasks for success. It’s also not uncommon to hear at the weekly staff meeting – “Saturday is beer and pizza overtime day! Let’s celebrate and write some code!”. I mean these folks are super motivational and looking ahead.

“If we just march northeast, starting in September, we got those Rusians”

The RIght Sized Opportunity

Sometimes a stable $8M business with a profit sharing plan can significantly encourage innovation, dedication and deliver some interesting results if Napoleon could focus on their strengths and those of the business. The way I see it, the Napoleon leader sees what could be, rather than what is. They see what what that don’t have rather than what they do – essentially can’t seem to appreciate what they have – people, products and opportunity.

This leader should step away for a week or so and let the people get creative and lead for a while, could provide some interesting outcomes and make Napoleon just a little more peaceful.

*End Note – this was just literary mechanic to approximate satire and sarcasm, not a recommendation to pursue.

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1 Comment

  • Reply jon gatrell May 21, 2008 at 8:50 pm

    Blog: Stuck in the Middle: The Napoleon: So I haven’t felt that creative in a while, but the..

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